Tuesday, November 09, 2010

WATERBROOK MULTNOMAH BOOK REVIEW: Under the Overpass by Mike Yankoski

For a sneak peak and to download Chapter One, click here

I have to admit I was curious about this book - not just about learning more about the homeless - but about the heart of this man who chose to live among the homeless for five months! Would this man change his ideas about homelessness according to the Scriptures? Would his attitude about a hand-out versus a hand-up change his attitude about Christ's call to those in need?

I chose this book to review with an open mind and an open heart. I am happy to report I have gleaned much and have a new resolve after reading it - to be more mindful of Matthew 25:40 and Hebrews 13:3. Because I am a Christian I must be cunning as a serpent and wise as a dove. However, I must keep the "God appointments" and pray for those who attempt to slant me toward being a scoffer. It is crucial to recognize real needs versus manipulation in order to be effective in these last days.

As I often cheer for the "underdog", I was happy to read many stories of Mike and his travel mate Sam. He not only cheered for the underdog, but spent time listening and ministering - and then fed the person. Scripture was laced throughout. I appreciated the Biblical references and commitment to being "in the world but not of the world".

Page 36 hit me as the youth group allowed those in the facility to experience pure joy and be a "sight for sore eyes" representing life outside that place. This account was a reminder that it takes nothing for any of us to walk into a rescue mission, hospital or elderly facility and just be among the people. We don't realize the "fresh air" and the presence of the Lord that we bring. Those who witness us walk in and be salt and light take notice because their own darkness is often so far from vibrant living!

Page 38 in the second paragraph I had to stop and shout, "Amen!" It was an awakening to me to realize that the Pastors who often visit (or Chaplains who go into the prisons or even the visitors teaching Bible Studies in facilities in which they are ministering) often only focus on God's judgment, wrath, hell etc. miss the true opportunity to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Leaving out God's love and joy and he Creator of the Universe singing over them (Zephaniah 3:17) is tragic! This fact was further confirmed in that the author shared that many of the homeless they met already knew of God, the Bible and many claimed to be Christians. However, the men and women they met were failing to live in God's grace and under the power of the Holy Spirit - which is why any of us fail to begin with...

On page 122 a section entitled Wakeup Call challenged me to pursue my own faith in light of what God determines tp be my responsibility in regard to homelessness. I saw the man's point! On a personal note, where I live in upscale posh East Boca Raton, we have homeless camping at the end of our street (literally two houses down). 

Homeless have been given "rights" according to Pottinger vs. Miami. Homeless in South Florida have actually reversed the notion of us ignoring them. Homeless in my town have formed a class of people whom you cannot discriminate against with jurisdictions backing their status. They have garnered the support of a very wealthy Miami lawyer who sees them as a protected class. Recently formed precedences no doubt later will become legislation.

The homeless are being "hired out" by the thugs to knock on our doors and case out our homes. There is a partnering of sorts!! So I had the reflex reaction to applaud that man in some sense because he was a hard working average Joe and just wanted to keep his environment clean. The park where they were sleeping was public and in my town the homeless would have had the right to stay there. Me yelling would have no effect. However, that gutteral instinct to protect my property kicked in. I know I must trust God to protect all that He has given me - I know I must pray harder and remember God is in control. I do believe fear guides us many times and that is what gets us in trouble!!

I cheered for Russ on page 142. Several instances I hung my head and sobbed as several churches and church people acted horribly toward these two "homeless" men. However, the "Russes" made up for those hypocritical and lax believers.

Just as I was wondering if they would try to get work (I did wonder how a ...say... McDonald's would treat an obvious homeless person if they applied for a job) they got the offer to work at the carnival. It did make me sad to realize the guy worked them to the bone literally for very little pay. Sad.

Page 212 voila! the question I had about how to discern who to give money to so as not to enable a homeless person. There was a man that was grateful to go with Mike to get a slice of pizza. There was another man that same day that Mike offered to go with and buy him dinner.

This is the account of the latter situation and I quote, "Not more than fifty feet from the pizza shop, I met a raggy, sun-weathered man stumbling along the sidewalk and singing. As I neared, he began yelling, "Give me a dollar!" He stumbled badly, righted himself with difficulty, then yelled, "I need a dollar for a beer before I go to sleep! Give me a dollar now!" I stopped. "I'm not going to give you any money, man." I told him. "Not for beer. But if you're hungry, we can get some dinner." "Yeah, whatever," he mumbled and staggered on his way."

(The man's response and Mike's comments stuck with me.) I quote, "The contrast between the two homeless men that evening highlighted for me one of the fundamental lessons I'd learned on the streets: We're responsible to help others toward hope in Jesus' name. But we're not responsible for their choices."

This explanation solidified my struggle with the modern day church. Sadly, we as individuals are left to battle and discern who is worthy and who is not worthy to receive our attention (acknowledging a homeless person with even just so much as a nod). The task is daunting! And this is why so many do nothing.

I so very much appreciated hearing about the transition back to "normal" life. I'm sorry folks - but I thought of Tom Hanks in Castaway sleeping on the floor the first night back in civilization- well - attempting to sleep...but I thought of Tom with all the food left (giant crab legs of all things!) and the remote controlling the electricity becoming a sad blinking streetlight to him suddenly (symbolic of many things - as later demonstrated in the later scene with many roads to take). He made the choice to pursue Helen Hunt one last time...

Back to the review ;)...I appreciated hearing about the "warm walls" and the way the author missed the aliveness of the outside environment. Simply intriguing the way the author allowed the reader into his head though the reader had never walked a day in his "dental-flossed" mended flip flops!!!

The writer in me cannot close this review without a few comments or suggestions. On page 7 a statistic is given however the reference is not cited. I would like to have that reference for my own usage to expound on in a blog or other outlet for the purpose of informing. I cannot use it if I do not have a footnote.. Page 46 I was a bit surprised to hear that the father had called yet the author stated that no cell phones were brought along. Did the father call on a Tract phone or a local payphone? That was an inconsistency. I would have liked to know how the father called knowing there were no cell phones brought on the trip.

Page 96 there was an argument for "we" that seemed out of character in this book. Since the author was the authority on the subject, coming from him in the first person would have been more relateable. My hackles rose starting with, "What do you do when a good tree bears bad fruit or a bad tree bears good fruit? Look harder." I would have rather heard what God had to say than the author as the author's verbiage here sounds emotional versus logical. Also on page 125 I would have liked to know who Richard White was as his quote was not referenced. Reason being, I have heard arguments that oppose the facts about mentally ill being the majority of homeless on our streets. As I am a Berean, I would have researched his quote further if I had information to do so.

Ironically on the last day that I read Under the Overpass, the "Sit Lie Law" in California, specifically Haight-Ashbury was highlighted on the morning news. The law voted to go in effect in January will seriously affect the homeless in that town. I was surprised of all days to see this news! I hope the town will not just banish these people but the churches will come alongside them and minister and aid them.

This amazing book reminded me that we as the Church of Jesus Christ must do better as a Body to love the unlovely. To stand on the Biblical verses that we have been preaching but not practicing. I gleaned so much from this book. I did not want it to end.

I read every word in the Epilogue and Q&A. I appreciated the author's last words on page 231, "Sometimes it's easy to walk by because we know we can't change someone's whole life in a single afternoon. But what we fail to realize is that simple kindness can go a long way toward encouraging someone who is stuck in a desolate place."

Have I come to a complete understanding and can fully agree that a born-again true Christian can be homeless? No. I still have questions about that. But just when I type that I remember that even Jesus Christ had nowhere to lay his head though the birds of the air had nests and the lilies of the field were taken care of - someone please email me those references! I have learned though from this amazing book that we must continue to ask our Creator what He wants us to individually do to love our neighbor which according to the Bible is "anyone we come in contact with".

If each of us individually searches to do something, and we bring this to calling to our churches, our churches can begin to address the homeless situation. We must love the sinner and hate the sin. We must listen more. Judge less. And make sacklunches - with fresh bread and fruit! We must realize that God meets our daily needs. He meets our needs so we can meet the needs of others and point them to Him.

As Mike Yankoski blessed me with his annointed book I hope to use what I have gleaned to be different, be bold and be the hands of feet of Christ. If I mend the soles of a worn out flip flop for Christ - He will supply the dental floss. He will provide the bandaid and Neosporin. I just have to go.

Thank you Mike and Sam for going - for sleeping Under the Overpass. Many lives will be changed by reading this book - and for the better - one underdog at a time can be fed and led - out of the Underpass into the Kingdom!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group as part of their Blogger Book Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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